"The Report" (2019)- Movie Review

Written and Directed by Scott Z. Burns
Starring Adam Driver, Annette Bening and Jon Hamm

‘A Riveting Political Thriller’

When it comes to the most shocking documents ever written in American history, nothing beats the torture report. A top-secret document, it detailed the CIA’s use of torture during the war on terror. Following 9/11, the CIA used a variety of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques to torture potential suspects. This led the Senate Intelligence Committee to file an investigative report against the CIA. Not only did the report find that the CIA’s torture techniques were highly unethical, but they were ineffective. With its timely themes of accountability, justice and corruption, the story behind the report seems to deserve the cinematic treatment. It is surprising, then, that this true story has never been told on the big-screen.

Now, Scott Z. Burns brings the fact-based story to the big-screen for the first time in his latest film “The Report”. A gripping, informative and riveting political thriller, it offers an insightful look at the real-life investigation. With his directorial debut, writer/director Scott Z. Burns has crafted an authentic account of the revealing investigation into the CIA’s torture program. Packed with captivating cinematography, smart storytelling and powerful performances, it is a highly effective political thriller. Although “The Report” is undeniably unforgettable, ultimately it is not a flawless film. It is slightly long, and suffers from a lack of compelling character development. Nonetheless, it offers taut entertainment that will satisfy fans of journalism dramas.

Based on actual events, “The Report” tells the true story of the U.S. Senate’s investigation into the CIA’s torture program. Adam Driver stars in the lead role as Daniel Jones, a dedicated staffer that works for the Senate Intelligence Committee. Jones is an idealistic investigator that believes in reporting accurate stories. However, his life forever changes when he is tasked by Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) to investigate the CIA’s post 9/11 torture program. As Jones begins to uncover shocking secrets, he soon becomes obsessed with seeking the truth.

It’s a fascinating fact-based story that is expertly told by writer/director Scott Z. Burns. Burns is a renowned screenwriter that is best known for his scripts on Steven Soderbergh’s films (ex. “Contagion”). “The Report”, however, marks his first feature film and foray into the world of investigative journalism. It’s the filmmaker’s first attempt to dramatize the real-life investigation of the CIA’s secret torture program, but he pulls it off seamlessly. Using captivating cinematography, Burns draws viewers into the life of an obsessive journalist that is seeking the truth. From intimate close-ups to anxiety-inducing long shots, the cinematography keeps viewers immersed in the film’s distinct setting. It gives the film a dark and chilling atmosphere that is reminiscent of old-fashioned political thrillers from the 1970’s. Working alongside cinematographer Eigil Bryld, Burns creates a stunning film in which each frame captures the nerve-wracking nature of the examination. Burns excels at recreating the real-life exhaustive investigation, and his debut feature is worth watching on Amazon Prime for this reason alone.

If fact-based stories do not pique your interest, though, there are still plenty of other reasons to see “The Report”. The film is extremely well-written, and offers an insightful look at a troubled time in American history. Burns’ screenplay is outstanding, and arguably the main highlight of the movie. Filled with intelligent dialogue, timely themes and effective flashbacks, the script elevates the movie to another level. Burns’ greatest strength as a screenwriter is his ability to subvert the expectations of viewers through the use of flashbacks. In Hollywood, most movies follow a formulaic three-act structure with a clear beginning, middle and end. This often leaves no room for surprises and detracts from the entertainment-value of the movie-going experience. Thankfully, though, that is definitely not the case with “The Report”. The film deftly switches back and forth between the present-day investigation and CIA’s torture program in the past. Using this ingenious flashback structure, Burns crafts a film that is utterly unpredictable. Flashbacks are risky narrative techniques to employ in political thrillers, but they work tremendously in this movie. Through an unconventional screenplay, Burns keeps viewers engrossed in the life of a dedicated journalist.

In terms of acting, the entire ensemble is at the top of its game. Every star gets the chance to shine, but the film is mainly a stunning showcase for its leading man.

Adam Driver delivers one of the best performances of his career as Daniel Jones. Following his award-worthy turn in “Marriage Story”, Driver has proven to be a versatile actor with a knack for playing idiosyncratic characters. With “The Report”, however, he takes on his most realistic role to date. It is not easy to portray a renowned investigative journalist. It’s a methodical role that requires a certain degree of commitment, but Driver pulls it off effortlessly. With mesmerizing expressions, he conveys the focus, dedication and tenacity of the journalist that penned the torture report. It’s a phenomenal performance from one of the most seasoned actors working today.

The supporting cast is spectacular and also worthy of recognition. Annette Bening is amazing and brings a sense of gravitas to the role of Senator Dianne Feinstein. Jon Hamm is fantastic and imbues shades of humanity into a hostile government official. And finally, it is hard to not mention Douglas Hodge. As the slimy architect of the CIA’s torture program, he brings an air of menace to the movie.

Although “The Report” is undeniably a powerful political thriller, ultimately it is not a flawless film. At two hours, it is slightly long and suffers from a lengthy running-time. Assisted by David Wingo’s energetic score, Burns keeps the film moving at an engrossing pace during the first hour. However, once the film enters its climax, it starts to lose steam and test the viewer’s patience. Moreover, the film suffers from a lack of character development. Burns’ decision to focus on presenting the facts is bold and ambitious. However, it leaves little room for character development. It is hard to relate to the main character because we barely get to know him on a personal level. Political thrillers thrive based on the lasting appeal of their characters, and in this regard “The Report” falls short of expectations.

On a final note, it is worth mentioning that “The Report” is a movie that is not meant for everyone. Given its sensitive subject matter, it may not please mainstream audiences. The film tackles controversial topics such as 9/11, terrorism and government corruption that will inevitably upset viewers. Viewers that are sensitive towards graphic depictions of torture may not enjoy the movie. Due to its harrowing themes, “The Report” is one of those films that may not appeal towards commercial audiences.

Nevertheless, fans of political thrillers will definitely enjoy “The Report” and so will movie-goers seeking engrossing entertainment. A fantastic piece of filmmaking, it sheds light on a little-known chapter in recent American history. At a time when modern audiences have never heard of the torture report, it’s a stirring reminder that the stories of scandalous investigations are worth retelling on the big-screen.

3.5/5 stars

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